Communitarianism and the Ethics of Communicable Disease: Some Preliminary Thoughts
Article first published online: 15 NOV 2011
© 2011 American Society of Law, Medicine & Ethics, Inc.
The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics
Volume 39, Issue 4, pages 678–689, Winter 2011
How to Cite
Cheyette, C. M. (2011), Communitarianism and the Ethics of Communicable Disease: Some Preliminary Thoughts. The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 39: 678–689. doi: 10.1111/j.1748-720X.2011.00635.x
- Issue published online: 15 NOV 2011
- Article first published online: 15 NOV 2011
Communicable diseases, especially those that are highly contagious, are on the rise and each of us, no matter who we are or where we live, is equally at risk of transmitting contagious diseases to others as we are of contracting such diseases from others. Because contagious diseases are as readily passed state-to-state as person-to-person, we all have a stake in every country's ability to enact effective infectious disease control policies, while policies grounded in shared values are more likely to gain widespread acceptance and thereby prove most effective. This paper suggests that principlism proved invaluable as an ethical framework for resolving hard medical cases and setting health care policy because it nicely “fits” dilemmas that arise in the context of the special relationship between doctors and patients or within family units. It then argues that communitarianism provides the better foundation for crafting infectious diseases control policies because contagious diseases, which often pass between perfect strangers, raise questions about the moral obligations we owe to (or are entitled to demand of) people with whom we share no “special” relationship. Accordingly, a socially embedded framework such as communitarianism may be a better fit for the more socially embedded ethical dilemmas of communicable diseases.